It's a tale as old as time: sexual obsession pushing away other concerns, as a person destroys their life from the inside out. French-Lebanese director Danielle Arbid's spin involves deliberately draining her lovers of distinguishing features, letting the pleasure they take in each other's bodies dominate the screen-time. “Fucking with you is so good,” Alexandre (Sergei Polunin) tells Hélène (Laetitia Dosch), during a regular afternoon tryst between the sheets. The venue is her house, the arrangement is he calls 20 minutes ahead to ask if she is free. She always is.
Staking the film on long love-making scenes is a gamble that pays off in some ways. Arbid distinguishes herself from 50 Shades Of Grey, and our embarrassing cinematic history of misrepresenting female pleasure, by showing that Alexandre knows how to make a woman come. Laetitia Dosch (a tour-de-force in 2017's Jeune Femme) delivers a sensitive and committed performance of sexual surrender, while Polunin walks a fine dramatic line as a man torn between lust and caution.
For all the sexual intrigue, cipher-like lead characters challenge the attention span and sex scenes become repetitive.
These scenes make us believe that Hélène would become obsessed. The sex is enough for both of them, at least initially. As in Adrian Lyne's thematically comparable 9 ½ Weeks, the weight Hélène puts on Alexandre leads to neglect in other areas, with the kicker being when she nearly hurts her son, prompting an irate cameo from Grégoire Colin as the boy's father.
For all the sexual intrigue, cipher-like lead characters challenge the attention span and sex scenes become repetitive. Arbid makes the point, via two supermarket scenes featuring Mills & Boon-esque bodice-rippers, that Hélène and Alexandre are but the latest actors in a story destined to repeat itself, yet the price of anonymising lead characters is that they seem distant. Philosophical lines from Hélène to a therapist bookend the film. “Thanks to him I approached the limit between myself and others close enough to imagine crossing it,” she says. It's a perspective with integrity, but takes too long to come.